5.22.2008

Newspapers and Disruption: School Edition - Part 1

Having read a lot about disruption in the video game industry over the past few months, I've begun to think about disruption in other industries, and how disruption can fix problems that schools such as my own are having.

At my high school, we have a small and under-noticed newspaper called The Buzz. In my first two years of high school, I commonly attended weekly Buzz meetings and tried to write for the paper. I found, however, that I tired of writing the types of articles I was expected to put out.



Sometime near the beginning of my second year, mostly due to my own personal issues coupled with a lack of motivation, I decided to quit writing for The Buzz. Ever since then, however, I began to question many things about The Buzz and my experience there.

Before I can begin to talk about these things, however, some additional background must be given. First, in Graphic Design in Freshman year, I attempted to construct a web-site for The Buzz using Dreamweaver, a program that I had absolutely no experience with. Obviously, this web-site did not work out.

Second, at the same time that I was writing for The Buzz, I was also (and still am) volunteering my time editing, organizing, and putting together my town's intermediate school's newspaper, The WISard. Yes, the name is a terrible pun that is only partially understandable without knowing the school's name.

Even after I quit The Buzz, I continued to work on The WISard. Even now, as a junior, I spent a good chunk of time today creating the latest edition of The WISard using Microsoft Publisher.

Before we continue, please allow me to compare the environment and set-up of these two newspapers, for they are significantly different from one another.

The Buzz has an extremely small staff, and the paper itself is generally around four-pages. Perhaps, then, it can be more accurately described as a newsletter. Additionally, being that it is a high school newspaper, The Buzz is a lot more serious than The WISard. Importantly, The Buzz's layout is quite consistent, and it looks relatively clean. Additionally, only a few issues of The Buzz are printed every year because it is merely a club, and its members have so many other obligations that producing content is difficult for them.



The WISard is essentially the opposite of The Buzz. It has a 30+ person staff, which includes a panel of editors and me. Its length also greatly fluctuates from paper to paper; one issue, the paper will be 24 pages, and another issue it will be only six pages. Completely unlike The Buzz, not only is The WISard has an inconsistent layout that is often relatively messy, it generally has a good amount of content to be edited, the content generally has extreme quality issues, and the content may consist of poems, stories, reviews, and other topics, but it is very rarely current events-related.

This lack of current events articles is largely due to The WISard's irregular publishing schedule; there are generally around four to five issues published each year, each with a different length, and all of these issues are being worked on for months at a time. Since each issue takes several months to be completed, formerly current events are now old news, and so, in this sense, The WISard can hardly be called a newspaper in the conventional sense.

As I took control of the desktop publishing for the last issue of The WISard, I really began to ponder ways that I might be able to change how the paper is run and published. Then I began to wonder if The WISard needed to be delivered in the form of a newspaper at all.

One major commonality and flaw that both The Buzz and The WISard share is a lack of readers. No one seems to want to read these newspapers. The Buzz's advisor, a very smart English teacher who has worked with this newspaper for many years, continuously advocated the use of quotes and interviews with students; she believes that interest will arise out of students seeing their friends appear in the paper. I believe that she's right.

However, I also believe that a more major problem is the method of delivery for The Buzz. Distributing papers is difficult in the high school, and The WISard is also difficult to circulate in the intermediate school.

How do we develop, organize, and deliver our content to children and teenagers, our primary audience? I believe that Disruption is the answer.



According to this article, which was published at the beginning of May 2005, newspaper circulation is declining. Rupert Murdoch is reported to have admitted that young people harness the Internet for their news fix.

And of course, that makes total sense to anyone who uses the Internet frequently, like me. The instant gratification the Internet grants users is incredibly important. Whereas someone has to pay for a newspaper every day to get his or her news, or someone has to watch the news on TV or listen to it on the radio at a specific time of the day, anyone can access the Internet at any time of the day and find articles and news pieces that he or she is interested in.

Most importantly, using the Internet allows for infinite customization of the type of content the user can see; there are plenty of news feeds and news sites that people can access, and there are many sites that allow users to search or filter news based on a multitude of categories.

Then there are applications like the News Channel on Nintendo's Wii console, which allows the user to sit comfortably at home and flick through the news using his or her TV and interacting with a very simple and attractive user interface.



Many newspapers have merely published a good deal of their print content on their websites. But this simply is not good enough. Using the Internet to look for news is a worlds different than sitting down and reading a newspaper. Reading long articles on a computer isn't attractive to a good chunk of people, especially if its presented in a boring format. A major problem caused by simply replicating a newspaper on the Internet is that the whole set up lacks convenience, something that is incredibly important to people in the 21st century, and importantly, it's something that people can find at many other Internet locales. It's far more important to create a news experience that is tuned to take advantage of the Internet's capabilities, while at the same time matches user behavior, remains simple, remains attractive, and remains convenient. My original intent with the website I was unsuccessfully designing for The Buzz was to merely copy and paste our newspaper content onto this site and archive it. Clearly, this would have failed.

My town's public school system has a web-site set up for each of its schools, but all of these sites lack detail and content. Some of them are rarely updated, and all of them have extreme grammar and professionality issues on various pages. Every student and teacher has an email address, and many students and teachers check their email quite frequently, but the school does not make adequate use of the services it has provided. Even more aggravating is the school's and the state's approach to the Internet, which is essentially to "block first, ask questions later." Legitimate news sources and educational sources of all types and spanning several industries are unnecessarily blocked because of the minority of students that abuse them. YouTube being blocked and feared rather than embraced and incorporated into lessons is a prime example of the educational system's reluctance to change and morph with the times. The school's use of the Internet is so restrictive, in fact, that it hinders the productivity of the computer classes that the school offers; oftentimes, many sites featuring tutorials, resources, and how-to videos for topics students are studying and practicing are blocked for reasons that are unknown to me.



How can we disrupt the newspapers in our schools if such needless blocks are placed on students? And should the term "newspaper" even be associated with our disruption? After all, as we've established, newspapers are quite inadequate for students' needs. What's more important is to name several goals and to create an experience around them. An experience that is tuned to the needs of students, an experience that matches student behavior, an experience that works with the educational system, and an experience that works with students' daily in-school and out-of-school computer usage. Perhaps using computers isn't the correct direction to move in in order to disrupt these school newspapers. Regardless, extensive research and planning will need to be done in order to successfully plan for a disruption of The WISard and The Buzz, and perhaps, in the process, perhaps even cause change in our schools' educational policies.

For now, I will continue to ponder and pursue potential methods for fixing this situation, first with The WISard, and then, maybe, with The Buzz. Part 2 will come when and if I manage to find a disruptive or even non-disruptive solution. Thank you for reading this lengthy piece.

1 comment:

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